How Haydn’s CEO built a thriving Kiwi business out of a 5m2 sunroom

Next time you pick up a paintbrush or a roller, remember the story of Haydn and how one man's determination and ingenuity turned adversity into a successful New Zealand business

For more than 50 years, Trevor Haydon has been one of the greatest inspirational personalities of New Zealand’s Painting & Decorating industry. Haydn Brush Company began in the sunroom of his parents' house in 1972, and it has since grown to be the nation's top supplier of artist, cosmetic and paint brushes, paint rollers, as well as decorating and associated products. Although he modestly describes himself as a brush maker, his commercial insight has taken him a very long way. He grew his company and emerged as the country’s largest manufacturer and distributor of all types of painting tools and equipment, supplying more than 3,000 products to all major hardware retailers.

Trevor Haydon Haydn CEO

Trevor, who is constantly upbeat and welcoming to everyone he meets, feels that the term "passion" describes what drove him to succeed. And even after more than half a century on the job, he never fails to show up with a smile and a warm greeting for his co-workers. “Let's get this straight: I didn't accomplish all of this on my own. My wife Sue and I have invested in the business together, so we both have shares in the company and a team of individuals working with us. I don’t like the word employee, so we don't use it here", he says.

How it started

It all began when he was 16 years old, while making brushes with his brother as a bit of a hobby. Later, he decided to attend university, but recognizes he was not the smartest student at all, even with some success in sports, to which he attributes his competitive nature.

About five or six months after starting his Law degree, he was diagnosed with rheumatic fever. “They placed me on my back for about six months and, during that time, I realised that I needed to do something different, as I was not exactly the scholar guy”, he recalls. At that point, he made the decision to have a go at the brushes.

So, he went to his parents and asked for help. "They encouraged me and said I could begin in the sunroom with just a small desk and my dog by my side," he explains. He started out by handcrafting artist brushes and soon moved on to cosmetic, eventually becoming the only manufacturer in this part of the world. The next step was selling them.

Even though Trevor only had a pair of old jeans and a bike, he made an appointment with Keith Shore, then general manager at Whitcoulls. "I didn't have the confidence, but I had the passion. I told him that all the brushes in their stores were imported, and, with my products, they wouldn't need to import anymore", he says. “He raised his eyebrows and asked if I had any samples. I showed him some and he called Rex Williams, the main person for art materials. He came up and was very impressed, saying that the brushes were really good. After selling them for about 18 months, Whitcoulls basically cut out all the importers, and that was the beginning of the business”, he recalls, acknowledging the invaluable support of the Assistant General Manager, Doug MacMaster, during the entire process.

Gradually, Haydn started growing and moved from the sunroom to Trevor’s bedroom. “I handcrafted all the brushes and glued them every night. I heated up my bedroom with little panel and floor heaters and I used to mix the glue up by hand in ice cream containers, while everybody else in the world had all the machines. Suddenly, there were thousands of brushes on my bedroom’s floor, while I slept with all that glue smell”.

Growing business

By that time, the business was getting too big for his bedroom and Trevor asked permission to use his parents’ garage. “Poor mom and dad took their cars out and I started a wee bandsaw to make the handles and trimming the ends off. Sue, my then girlfriend and later my wife, also constructed brushes in her parents’ house in her spare time. That was when I finally got some people to work with me and help me out”, he says. He then bought a Volkswagen and started doing deliveries. Not so long later, he shifted to a little factory in Olliviers Road, in Phillipstown, and hired some of the best brush makers who worked for the opposition companies. The business started growing at an exponential rate, and Haydn soon began exporting products to Australia.

So Trevor had the idea to manufacture paint brushes in Christchurch with his entire workforce. For 2 years, he stored thousands of them in the warehouse, before feeling confident to go to the market. “We went boom and all the competitors were in shock. They had no idea how we managed to produce that much. Little did they know that we bankrolled everything we had, so we could start selling."

Haydn began making timely deliveries from the north to the south of New Zealand, and immediately won over customers and the public. “We had to be innovators, using the Kiwi no 8 wire philosophy from our artist brushes into our paint brushes”, he explains, “and we were miles and miles away from all the other manufacturers through out the world”.

However, Trevor had a keen entrepreneurial spirit, and he quickly recognised a chance to start producing shaving brushes as well. At that time, there was only one manufacturer in New Zealand, and he purchased several of their brushes to check them out. “I instantly thought I could create better ones, so I got the supplies and learned how to make a decent shaving brush. After all, brush maker is my qualification!", he exclaims.

Always high-spirited, he decided to get on a plane and scheduled an appointment with Gillette. "I flew up, but didn't have the money to take a taxi, so I took a bus with all my samples and finally went to their office", he says. He engaged in a conversation with the sales manager and showed his collection of shaving brushes. He then asked Trevor if Haydn could constantly manufacture them with a big dome. Even though he was aware that they were not available in New Zealand, the answer was an instantaneous “yes”.

With an order for 10,000 brushes in his hands, he called for a taxi back home, determined to succeed. “I wasn't sure how we were going to manufacture those, but sometimes fear is a good thing. I knew someone who had a plastic factory, and we got our own little mould made up. Following that, we produced shaving brushes under the Gillette brand for many years. Then, we branched out into the global cosmetics market, producing brushes for major companies like Avon and Elizabeth Arden”.

After producing a lot of cosmetics brushes, the fashion industry underwent a transformation and other materials like foam started taking place. So, it was time to move on and Haydn ended up in the painting and decorating business. “It’s not always easy. But it all comes back to the passion. You will probably be successful if you can drive yourself into a new direction. Sue, my wife, is the person that keeps me going. I met this lady in our school days, when she was 14 and I was around 15 or 16, and if she hadn't started handling Haydn's weekly, monthly, and yearly accounts from the beginning, on top of her other full-time day jobs, I honestly don't know what I would be doing today if we hadn’t met. It's a terrific relationship, and she is the one who always reminds me to listen up, get going, and get moving," he says.

With his wife as his driving force, Trevor continued to grow and, before the Christchurch earthquakes, Haydn was already employing almost 80 people. “When the quakes happened, we got hit quite badly, like a lot of other companies. But fortunately, we had enough stock to get us through. I have always been told not to hold too many supplies, and I've constantly replied to the accountants that if we don't have the stock, we can't sell them. And that was one of the things that helped us during that period, when we couldn’t turn a machine on for 10 to 12 weeks”, he remembers.

New Rolleston premises

Together, Trevor and Sue looked at destruction caused by the Christchurch earthquakes as an opportunity to establish their business to be even stronger than before, building new premises across the city, in the newest industrial hub in the region. The land for the new build was purchased earlier in the Rolleston industrial area and, in 2014, the team moved to the brand-new purpose built 9,000m2 office and warehouse facilities. Haydn continued investing to increase its warehouse capacity and, this year, has purchased another 2,000m2 building, totalling now 11,000m2 of working spaces.

In 2018, with two generations of family working in the business, Trevor was awarded honorary Life Membership from NZ Master Painters Association for his unparallel commitment and service to the painting & decorating industry. “Hard work and a little bit of luck got it all done. In life, there’s always a dark cloud coming over, but we need to look beyond for blue skies. If you don't do something different, you're going to end on the bottom half, and I wasn't interested in being there”, he says.

Nowadays, Haydn distributes over 45,000 orders to around 1,300 retailers across the country. It also sources its own branded range of tools and equipment and the best brands around the globe, such as Rust-Oleum, Zinsser, Wooster, Surface Shields, Handy Paint Co, EDMA, UP Paint, Ram Board, DAP, Dy-Mark, Brush Baggy, among others. In addition, provides both Third (3PL) and Fifth (5PL) Party Logistics solutions to a select number of clients importing products to New Zealand.

Despite all his success over the last 50 years, Trevor has never lost touch with the modest, straightforward person he was when he first had the courage to strike out on his own. "I'm only a brush maker, but I've learnt a little bit about supply chain management, human resources, health and safety and stock control”. Whatever you do, he says, "never doubt your initiative or your talent, because I stand here to prove that you can achieve anything. All you need is passion”.